Monday, September 13, 2004

Life in the Parallel Reality

News of the possibility of a "parallel Earth" to our own, along with further research findings that reveal further effects of the environmental depredations of humankind, have combined to spur fresh reflections on our place within the Cosmic Whole.

What if it were true, in whatever sense of degree--that this planet of ours is a parallel form to another Earth, in another galaxy? The Hubble telescope appears to have detected a parallel galaxy to the Milky Way, a kind of mirror image of our solar system, some 50 million light years from here. In the meantime, new research being published in the journal Science is showing us further evidence of the depredations we are inflicting upon our world. These scientists predict a future of increasingly drastic and deadly heat waves in Mediterranean Europe (especially France, which lost 15,000 people in last year's summer heat) and the American Midwest--all of it the result of arrogant government and corporate money-lust.

Could it be that this parallel Earth upon which we suffer amid our species' malignant madness is a kind of distortion of another, more natural meeting of mankind and Earth, where our Cosmic doubles are even at this moment living in accord with Nature and the commonsense laws of the Cosmic Whole? What would such a revelation, if it were demonstrably possible, say about us and our collective ruling ideologies of anthropocentrism, self-aggrandizement, and the deification of humankind? What would it say about the religious beliefs of our ancestors and our prevailing belief systems, that the collective is supreme, but the individual is flawed, stained with Original Sin (whatever that is)?

When you pick up a newspaper, turn on a television set, or sit in a corporate boardroom for a few minutes, you may find this an impossible conclusion to avoid--viz., that our species is a parallel construction born of decadence, corruption, and the seemingly boundless delusion of arrogance. As tempting and even compelling as such a conclusion may appear, it would seem to imply a projection upon our nature, and by extension upon the universe, to the effect that it is a malevolent or indifferent realm, hostile to life and careless of love. Look into the sky tonight, or down at the earth, and try to find the mildest evidence of striving, competition, hatred, guilt, violence, or arrogance in the stars, the moonlight, or the trees that reach toward the heavens as they draw life from the earth.

There is, of course, no such malignancy in Nature: instead, it calls us back, whenever we stop to really listen, to our own place within its vast and simple Presence. It shows us itself, open, welcoming, and somehow inscrutable to intellect; it is always ready to teach us, to show us who we truly are; it is always prepared to reflect our inner light and to reveal its own, reflected within ourselves; and to help us to see that in fulfilling the destiny of our individual life through the same Modesty of action and presence that it teaches us in every moment that we attend carefully to its messages, we will be made whole and united, in Nature, with all who share our planet.

And the next time you are near water--whether it's the ocean, a lake or pond, even a swimming pool, a full bathtub, or a mudpuddle in the driveway--stop to take a look at the reflection of your own face. Do you see parallel lines, opposing or mutually retreating images? Or do you see merely the unique consciousness of your living Presence, reflected in the fundamental nurturing substance of life as we know it? Then touch the water, if you can; watch and feel the reflection change, coalescing with your receptive spirit; and recall to yourself that you--your body--is 75% water. The nourishing reflection of natural beauty; the life-sustaining fluid of Earth; the fundamental element of the baptismal ritual--it is all here, within you. No improvement, addition, cultivation, or self-aggrandizing ideology of an external deity is needed: all you need is the aqueous, self-reflecting reality that you already are, in this moment.

September 8, 2004

Living From the Center: A Guide to Balance in Life and Politics

Over the six-week course of the convention season, we must have all heard it a thousand times: moderation. Each party and its candidates attempted to portray themselves as the party of moderation, the party of the center, the stakeholders of a point of median stability and balance. The Democrats did it by refraining from "Bush-bashing" in their rhetoric, and by keeping particularly incendiary left-wingers (such as filmmaker Michael Moore--the man who could do more than anyone else to deliver victory for Kerry in November) offstage as far as possible. The Republicans called on the presence of popular figures with moderate reputations, such as George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, and Arnold Schwarzenegger; while they also hid from view their more extremist representatives (most notably the designers and champions of the current war in Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz). These efforts symbolized an effort by both parties to create the image of a group holding a middle ground, around a fixed and relatively well-marked point of political center. No one (certainly no one in the mass media) bothered to ask what this point was, how it was defined, and whether its validity as a true reference for moderation had been objectively established or generally agreed to. That task, it seems, must fall to us--freethinking individuals who seek to look beyond appearances and into the realities of life, truth, and belief: the time is past (if it ever was) where we could rely on the press, mass media, or political independents to reveal to us what was being assumed or hidden in the staged discourse of party politics.

Imagine a ruler lying before us: it has two endpoints, one to our left and another to our right. Somewhere in between these points, a territory of centrality lies--for example, between the 5 1/2 inch mark and the 6 1/2 inch mark on a one foot ruler. And along the vertical line beside the "6" on our ruler lies the point of the perfect center: the arithmetic median, to be technical about it. To either side of this line we may measure exactly six inches to either end of the ruler.

This is the metaphor of linear centrality that underlies most political thought and ambition these days. Now we may ask: "what are the defining marks of the extremes in this symbol (is the left-endpoint Fidel Castro or Ted Kennedy? is the right-endpoint Jerry Falwell or Donald Rumsfeld?)?" "And doesn't our definition of the political center-point depend on how we define the extremes?"But we might also ask an even more penetrating question: "is a linear model of centrism the only, or best, possible model? Is the yardstick-metaphor the most accurate way to conceive of people and politicians? Or is there an alternative that draws us closer to the issues and toward a more correct and balanced perception of what it means to be a citizen of a political democracy?"

A good question, I have found, tends to evoke the most natural answer. Perhaps this is true of the inquiry now before us: are we attempting, with the linear model of centrism, to force our candidates and their parties into the two-dimensional flatness of their cardboard cutouts? Could we, by adopting a more rounded and fluid metaphor, perhaps discover (and even invoke) the depth of these political contestants as human beings? Is it possible that the way we think about and respond to the opponents in a political race helps to predict and determine their very behavior? If that's even a remote potential, it is something we'd be well advised to pursue further. So let's give it a try.

We will therefore cast aside our ruler and save it for a day when drapes must be measured or a child's problem in plane geometry solved. But for assessing the competing claims and promises of human individuals and the groups they represent, we will reach for a symbol with a little more depth. For the scientifically-minded among you, perhaps the image of a spherical hologram presents itself, along with thoughts of fractal weavings over and through an unfixed meandering of positions in infinite space. That's a valid metaphor, and I would discourage no one from following it through in navigating the shoals of political discourse. For the rest of us, with no claim to an understanding of "chaos theory" or nonlinear dynamics, I would suggest an aqueous symbolic reference. This, perhaps, might be a good place for many of us to start.

The ocean, even from the casual perspective of a boardwalk stroller, is in constant, shifting motion. There is no discernible left, right, or center: the tide ebbs and flows, the energy of the incoming waves varies with the currents of wind and the relative heat of the ambient air. There seems to be no fixed reference points for orienting oneself amid water, but we find with a little study that there are. They are the stars, the horizon, and the various metrical devices created by humans on the basis of their observations of Nature. The sextant, compass, and other instruments of navigation were invented by people who had put themselves out into the water and then fashioned an understanding of what they saw and felt. The folks who did this discovered that finding one's center in the sea involved considerations that rarely arise in the seemingly flat linearity of land--namely, depth and magnetic orientation.

So let us place President Bush and Senator Kerry out at sea, and discover what more we may learn about them and ourselves. After all, the most triumphant moment of Bush's presidency came at sea, on an aircraft carrier where he arrogantly declared "Mission Accomplished" and his second term seemed already won. He should be quite comfortable there, and so, of course, should Senator Kerry, perhaps surrounded by his Swift Boat comrades (that is, the ones who were really on the boat with him in the Mekong Delta--not those other fellows who were in a mess hall in Saigon, hearing or jealously inventing third-hand accounts of the future Senator's "self-inflicted wounds"). Let the stars in the night sky above them represent each of us, the people of the nation which they each desire to lead. See if you can imagine how each of the contestants--the massive, weapon-laden aircraft carrier of the President and his party; and the small, quick, light-bottomed vessel of Senator Kerry and his party--might be able to identify and navigate the shoals and depths of this dynamic sea that our world has become. Then visualize how each may be able to respond to your position and visibility in the firmament. On this point, simply consult your own experience: are you clear and satisfied with what has come to, and befallen, you in the past four years? Has the dark, storm-laden cloudbank of September 11 begun to pass, while your own life's light has been freed to glow in serenity and prosperity? Or do you find yourself caught behind a pale cast of doubt, fear, poverty, or stagnation? Then look at the sky around you and see how the condition of your neighboring stars appears: are you encouraged with what you find, or does it seem as if there would be nothing by which to navigate the further course of that behemoth with cruise missiles floating beneath you? Which of these vessels that are striving to lead seems best able to discover and react to your presence and the direction of both your light and your needs? Consider every corner of your life's experience in deciding, and do it with the television turned off and the newspaper cast aside.

The principle point of this exercise is the discovery that the center is not a territorial line of arithmetic centrality, which one party, group, or candidate may claim and hold against the other. The center is a place within each individual, and by extension, within the heart of a nation and its citizenry. This draws us to our final nautical reference--the magnetic medium of orienting ourselves amid shifting tides, changing depths, and a moving horizon; all in the additional dimension of time, within whose present moment we must self-create a future in which our children will be able to navigate their lives as adults. If the center is a desirable place to work from (as we all, even the politicians among us, seem to agree), then we had better be sure of the way to our own center--as a nation, as a community, as a family, and most critically, as individuals. Are we in a moment that calls for more carriers, more cruise missiles, more deaths at home and abroad, more deficits, more unemployment, more social vigilance--all in the name of homeland security? Or does the magnetic arc of the compass needle suggest that we need a "swift-boat" orientation, which accounts for the shallows of our domestic plight, since they may be equally dangerous as the threatening depths abroad?

It must be taken for granted that neither of these candidates has the total vision to encompass the needs and potential of every light in the sky above him. Whoever takes the oath of office next January must understand that the earth is alive and organically responsive to our every movement, our every action, our every impulse of policy. He must also recognize that the human place within the earth's depth and expanse is unique but not supreme. He must finally perceive that his own leadership is dependent on people, influences, and forces that he cannot always control or direct, but simply trust. The captain of a ship at sea cannot alone maintain the vessel's balance; he must rely upon the stability of his crew in keeping to the center of a constantly shifting environment. So we must ask of each candidate, "what is the general orientation of your cabinet members (or, in the case of Kerry, your likely cabinet members)?" An extremist in any position serves only an extreme purpose, and follows the light of a fixed and often illusory point of vision. The center is most truly defined by its ability to move--with the tide below it, the temperature around it, and the ceaselessly moving light of the stars above. Whichever candidate may be deemed most able to move and to resist the easy temptation to settle into a fixed position, is the man who deserves the vote of each individual who will cast a ballot from the center of his or her being.

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